The young Aussie relishes the chance to step away from fantasy TV and star in something ripped from the headlines.
Phoebe Tonkin is relishing the chance to play normal. The 28-year-old Aussie has spent the past seven years acting in US supernatural dramas The Secret Circle, The Vampire Diaries, and most notably, The Originals.
Safe Harbour couldn’t be more different – no spells, no fangs, no green screen, no special effects.
“Safe Harbour is much more grounded than my other recent shows and that means the style of acting is really naturalistic,” Tonkin says.
“It is a completely different world to The Originals, which is very heightened. That is a fantasy and a big beast. We have done five seasons. You get to a point where everyone knows what they are doing and it is a well-oiled machine.”
Safe Harbour could have been ripped from the headlines. Ryan and Bree Gallagher (Ewen Leslie and Leeanna Walsman) have bought a second-hand yacht in Darwin and invited a group of friends, including Ryan’s sister Olivia (Tonkin) and boyfriend Damien (Joel Jackson) as well as friend Helen (Jacqueline McKenzie) for a boating holiday. After less than a day’s sailing, a broken down and leaking fishing boat appears on the horizon and the group realizes that is overloaded with asylum-seekers.
Do they help or not? After a heated discussion, Ryan decides to tow the beleaguered boat towards Indonesia but by next morning, after a severe storm, the boat is missing.
It isn’t until five years later, when Ryan steps into a taxi driven by one of the refugees, Ismail Al-Bayati (Hazem Shammas) that the truth behind the disappearance is revealed – someone cut the rope, but who? Tragically, some of the refugees drowned.
It is a set-up that will remind some viewers of The Slap when Harry (Alex Dimitriades) hits another couple’s young child and the relationship between the characters is forever changed.
“It is the rippled effect of something (cutting the rope) that is almost a split-second decision – how big an impact that can have on your life and even strangers’ lives,” Tonkin says. “That is what I think is so interesting about the series. It asks a lot of questions of the audience. All of the characters represent a different point of view and a different perspective.”
Olivia and Damien’s relationship has disintegrated in the five years since the asylum-seeker incident but now they are forced to confront the ramifications of what happened that night.
“Olivia undergoes the biggest difference (during the five years) of any of the characters,” Tonkin says. “When we see her on the yacht she is very light-hearted. She is in love. She relies heavily on her boyfriend and her brother. She grew up without parents so really her family is the people on the boat.”
“When you find her five years down the track you realise she is harbouring a lot of guilt and anger and there is a of ugliness in her. There is resentment about how drastically her life has changed because of what happened on the boat. The consequences really affected Olivia and her emotional state.”
“There are scenes with Joel where we are very close and love each other dearly and then we have to play against that when we see each other (after five years).”
Producer Stephen Corvini is thrilled Tonkin returned home to be part of Safe Harbour.
“I wanted to get a diverse cast that didn’t really know each other,” Corvini says. “It was important for them not to be too friendly in a show like this. It was also great to give opportunities to Arabic Australian actors (Shammas as well as Nicole Chamoun who plays Ismail’s wife Zhara, Yazeed Daher as the couple’s son Asad and Robert Rabiah as brother Bilal) who typically get roles that are thugs or terrorists.”
The Originals comes to an end this season but Tonkin has already booked herself a guest role on acclaimed US drama The Affair. But if Tonkin gets her way she will be doing more work in Australia as well.
“(Success in Hollywood) has definitely required patience and perseverance,” Tonkin says. “There have been lulls (between jobs) but I’ve been luckier than most because I’ve worked pretty solidly the whole time I’ve been there.”
“I’ve just take take opportunities as they have come and doing a job like this (Safe Harbour) reignites the excitement.”
“What we are exploring is very real and very current. I did a lot of research on the refugee crisis. This has been a passion project for everyone and it has been really exciting to be part of that.”
Published March 7, 2018
by Colin Vickery
Source: Herald Sun